by Yvonne Su
Written as a part of our Tiny Review Series
Photographic follows the life of Graciela Iturbide, the Mexican artist whose black-and-white photos appear plucked out of a surreal dream. Written by Isabel Quintero and illustrated by Zeke Peña, the graphic novel biography is a fitting homage to the photographer. Reading the book is like walking through an exhibit of Graciela Iturbide’s work: background text opens each section and first-person narratives explain how she created each piece. Iturbide’s photographs themselves fit perfectly in the pages of Quintero and Peña’s biography.
To pick one word to describe Iturbide’s life and her work, it would be “unlikely.” She began taking photographs after her daughter passed away in 1970. Birds were her first subjects. Iturbide took pictures of birds in flight and vultures eating remains. “Though I am no longer Catholic, I am always looking for signs,” she says.
Soon after, the daily lives of Mexicans and Chicanos became her subject. Iturbide went into homes of cholas in East Los Angeles and watched rituals in pueblos in La Mixteca. In one of the rituals she documented, thousands of goats were slaughtered. Capturing these almost mythical events became her expertise. In 1979, Iturbide went on to take one of her most famous photographs, Our Lady of the Iguanas, in Juchitán, Oaxaca. Through Iturbide’s lens, the subject of the photo, “La Medusa Juchiteca,” stands defiantly with a crown of real iguanas on her head. The photograph is unforgettable and a prime example of Iturbide’s body of work: every animal and breathing human appears like a religious icon that a person only has the privilege of beholding once. Iturbide captured those surreal moments with her camera.
Between Iturbide’s photographs, Quintero’s text, and Peña’s illustrations, reading Photographic is an immersive experience. Peña’s grayscale art depicting Iturbide’s life goes seamlessly with the photographs she took. Photographic is a quality artist biography that affirms art itself because the craft of three artists—photographer, writer, and illustrator—came together to create a book that captures the unlikely in its pages.
Yvonne Su is a former elementary teacher. She also writes for Mochi Magazine. She lives in Santa Ana, California.